Intro: Indian Government has to ensure that reforms should be meaningful. Policy makers must first have a White Paper on Defence tabled in the Parliament and then follow-up through restructuring the Ministry of Defence, reforming the Public Sector and in making the Private Sector a major player to meet India’s Defence needs.
A lack of direction has marked India’s modernisation efforts since Independence, largely due to inadequacies in understanding of Defence and Security issues by India’s political leadership and the stranglehold over Defence by the country’s bureaucracy. There is also an apparent lack of a strategic culture within the Armed Forces, largely because concerted attempts to promote the same have never been made within the services. Development of such a culture would require nurturing officers at the initial academy training stage itself and thereafter to progress the same through self study, all through an officer’s career. This has unfortunately not been considered necessary, with a former service chief who superannuated recently even stating that junior and mid-level officers need not concern themselves on strategic issues. However, without a lifetime of study behind them, officers, when assuming higher responsibilities will be found wanting and will remain tactical in their orientation. Change will not come easily but is essential if India is to be a major military power in the years ahead.
A holistic appraisal of the Armed Forces would indicate that the requirement of the services cannot be viewed merely in terms of acquisition of military hardware. There is an urgent need to look into doctrines, organisational structures and training issues to meet current and future potential challenges to national security. While the focus of the Armed Forces has traditionally been on ensuring the country’s territorial integrity and countering home based insurgencies and terrorism, the focus now stands widened to include threats emanating from space, cyberspace and the electro-magnetic spectrum, proliferation of missile technology and precision guided munitions, and also all aspects of information warfare to include shaping the information environment. Some important areas requiring focus are given in succeeding paragraphs.
The orientation of the Armed Forces remains Pakistan centric despite the fact that the long term challenge India faces is from China. Pakistan is no longer a conventional military threat to India though it still poses formidable challenges in the sub conventional plane through promoting terrorism and insurgencies within the country. There is a need for a Defence White Paper to be prepared and tabled in the Parliament for setting strategic orientation towards envisaged threats. Till such time as this is done, the Government push towards modernising the Armed Forces will essentially be furthering the status quo. Change is however required in organisational structures within the Armed Forces and in equipping strategies, so that potential threats are appropriately addressed at minimum cost and maximum force effectiveness. This further amplifies the need for a Defence White Paper.
Need for Doctrine
A doctrinal framework is necessary to provide the rationale for force modernisation and training, as also to fuel research for further enhancement of war fighting capability. Doctrine must drive strategy. As of now, we do not have a joint warfare doctrine for the Armed Forces, though each service has its own doctrine. This impedes force modernisation, negates synergy in application of tri-service assets, and militates against attempts to achieve transformation to achieve full-spectrum dominance and total joint force effectiveness in our areas of interest. A joint doctrine would enable a better appreciation of tackling threats, both in conventional war and in sub-conventional conflict. Possible fallout could have been improving the manoeuvrability of the Army by integrating attack and utility helicopters in the strike formations and reducing the armour component in the strike corps. Limited Defence outlays and long spells of peace have however led to inter-services competition for scarce resources, which more often than not degenerate into rivalry, turf wars and unseemly dissonance at the higher, functional levels. It is imperative, therefore, that jointness and inter-services harmonisation be institutionalised through the joint doctrine.
Higher Defence Control Organisation
India’s higher Defence control organisation, as well as the set up of the Defence Ministry, has hardly changed since Independence. Some incremental changes have taken place based on the report of a Group of Ministers, post the Kargil conflict. Some of these have been implemented as a result of which we now have an Integrated Defence Staff (IDS), a Defence Procurement Agency, Strategic Forces Command and the first ever tri-service Andaman and Nicobar Operational Command. However, the crucial matter of merger of Service Headquarters and Ministry of Defence has not taken place and the appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) has been deferred. The reforms have thus not gone far enough in the critical aspect of integration. At the apex level, the politico-military interface needs to be institutionalised without further delay with the appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff who would be the interface between the military and political authority. With the CDS rendering single point advice to the political authority, the role of the Defence Secretary gets diluted and it is apparent that the bureaucracy will obviously oppose such a move. But such resistance would have to be overcome in the larger national interest.
The Public Sector
The Defence Research and Development Organisation, Ordinance Factories and the Defence Public Sector Units, provide the Armed Forces with the wherewithal for combat. Despite having a large manpower base and heavy funding out of the Defence Budget, we are still importing about 70 per cent of our combat requirement. More importantly, there is a credibility gap which has developed over the years, with the Armed Forces expressing concern over the quality of armaments supplied by the public sector, which continues to underperform, yet remain major players in equipping the forces. We still face serious challenges in developing a credible small arms family of weapons and in producing artillery guns, tanks and aircraft system. Higher levels of accountability are required to be introduced into the Public Sector.
Other reforms could encompass closing down inefficient units, co-opting the Private Sector in a big way which would also include the creation of Defence Economic Zones and in making the Public Sector compete with the Private Sector by allowing a level playing field to the latter.
Certain welcome steps have been taken over the years. Initiatives such as institutionalising the Defence Procure-ment Procedure in 2002, the Defence Offset Policy in 2006 and formulating a Long Term Defence Integrated Perspective Plan in 2009 are positive steps. There is also a renewed focus on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), which could potentially energise the Defence Sector. However, for reforms to be meaningful, we must first have a Defence White Paper tabled in the Parliament and then follow-up through restructuring the Ministry of Defence, reforming the Public Sector and in making the Private Sector a major player to meet India’s Defence needs.
Maj Gen (Retd) Dhruv C Katoch (The writer is the Director of Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi)